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"I think the experience improves as one moves toward the back of the queue,
the LastClass on the plane."

In my relative youth, when I seemed to be on an airplane at least twice a week, I guarded my frequent flier status as if it was the crown jewels. I'd call thirty seconds after the earliest possible moment allowed to request upgrades and carted around a treasured pile of upgrade coupons in my knapsack. I'd board the plane first, settling into a leather seat to sip a complimentary beverage before the rest of the passengers even boarded. I could lounge around in the first class lounge before the flight, though nowhere else in my life did the concept of lounging ever come up. I imagined myself living the good life, though off airplane, my life seemed basically pedestrian. I was a minor king in the air.

When I stopped traveling so much, my frequent flier status plummeted.
On those rare occasions when I'd fly, I found myself relegated to the back end of the boarding queue, a previously unimaginable humiliation. I'd sometimes try to be the last person on board, hovering around until the five or six special classes ahead of me had passed through the portal. I began to learn to not care about flying first class anymore, and even found considerable satisfaction in sitting in the last row on the plane, the row where the seats don't recline and one can eavesdrop on the flight attendants gossiping in the back. I could swap seats with a seven year old so he could have a window seat or simply slip into my flying coma where I remain basically invulnerable to the standard humiliations of modern air travel.

When I flew first class, I often wrote when flying, finding the in flight atmosphere curiously encouraging to my writer genes. In LastClass, I could not open my laptop if I tried, so I don't even try anymore. I bring a book and cower over the pages as if I were the only person on the flight. I decline the offer of a snack or beverage for I've brought my own water bottle and a personal baggie filled with almonds. Anonymous in the back of the plane, I suspend time while hurtling through space. I cannot see out any window and frequently simply stand in the aisle next to my seat to prevent stoving up along the way. I'm learning that I'm perfectly free to treat myself with the dignity I deserve, relying upon no flight attendant to attend to me. My wants are few.

I'm sometimes the last one off the plane, too, an under-appreciated distinction offered by no airline awards program. I'm polite and appreciative of the small decencies flight attendants extend to me and reciprocate when I can. I'm no trouble and I expect nobody to take care of me except myself. In first class, the opposite was sometimes true. I could be a dismissive asshole, a little too full of my special status to attend to those around me. I'd end up sitting next to someone just as special as me and we'd dazzle each other with stories of our unique specialnesses, often focusing upon where we'd flown for free using our inexhaustible supply of airline miles. How utterly boring.

In the back, I'm more often sitting with infrequent fliers, squeamishly excited everyday people heading for a funeral or some other family gathering, out of their natural element, fidgety for a smoke, and on their best behavior. We don't chat much. Sometimes, I'm fortunate enough to find myself seated next to a young mother with a fussy baby or a curious five year old. These pairings never, ever happen in first class. Yes, I will hold that baby while the mother rummages around in her carryon to find that soothing something. Sure, I'll carry on a long conversation with that five year old while his dad cringes at his offspring's cheekiness. I feel like I better belong back in the cheap seats.

Before I left The Insurance Company, I had the opportunity to travel across the country with the man who would one day become the President of the firm and one of his department's clerks to preview some software. Because this was a last minute trip, the airline placed us in the very last row, the least requested seats on the plane. He insisted on taking the middle seat, inviting his clerk, who had never before flown cross country, to take the window seat, and me to take the slightly roomier aisle seat. We comfortably chatted for the five flight hours, landing in a furious crosswind with snow obscuring the runway, the last ones down. This was one of the very most enjoyable flights I've ever taken. LastClass and first quality experience.

I snigger now when I see the hot shots do their Me First nudging to be first on board. The Muse, who, when we fly together, sits up front, boards fifteen minutes before my boarding group gets invited onboard. I always find enough overhead space remaining somewhere for my knapsack and Borsalino, and find my place nearer the back end of the plane. We arrive at the destination at exactly the same time, though The Muse must wait, sometimes impatiently, for LastClass to exit the plane. I'm not full of any complimentary beverage or anything else, except, perhaps, a deeper sense of shared humanity. The Muse might have met someone who could help advance her career. I've met another five year old off to visit his grandma. No aspersions, but I think the experience improves as one moves toward the back of the queue, the LastClass on the plane.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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